Confessions of a Kansas/Midwest Hardcore Punk
Interview by Jack Partain, Part 2
Punk rock happened in thousands of places throughout the world and it developed differently in each place. In the Midwest, the most legendary hive of punk rock culture was The Outhouse, a cinder block building in the middle of a cornfield five miles east of Lawrence, Kansas that hosted shows from 1985-1997. In a recent documentary about the place, Henry Rollins said: "Could a venue like The Outhouse exist in Brooklyn, New York? No. Could it exist in Manhattan? Could it exist in downtown Washington DC? Or Boston, Massachusetts? No. No, No. And no."
Bob Cutler was at ground zero for just about everything that went down at The Outhouse. He attended many shows there in its early days, played there with a couple of bands, ran a soundboard for countless bands, booked shows there, and even cleaned the toilets. And he was one of only a handful of people allowed to use the hidden telephone there. Here are a small portion of his memories from those days.
see Part 1 of the Cutler interview
PSF: You meet some pretty interesting people when you run in punk rock circles, don't you?
BC: Yeah. I used to buy weed from Bob Berdella, the famous "Butcher of Kansas City." I used to hang out at this house in Kansas City where my friend Jeff lived which was right down the street from Berdella's house. Jeff was sort of a "scene king" kind of guy there were always a bunch of punks hanging out at his place, one of those kind of houses. After shows, I'd usually end up there and someone would go 'Hey, man, we need some weed.' And somebody would say 'Go over to Bob's house up the street.' Then someone would say 'Hey Cutler, you go! He's your type, ha ha ha!' But, see I knew him from his oddities shop at the Westport Flea Market, Bob's Bizarre Bazaar. That shop of his was always a must stop place when we would come to shows in Kansas City. The first time I went to his place to buy weed, someone else took me there and Berdella acted really upset that we were there. He seemed paranoid and annoyed. I think he recognized us from the shop and thought we were there to buy bone earrings or something like that. When he found out we were there to buy drugs, he softened a little. I went a few steps into his house and it was kind of a hoarder house, boxes of crap everywhere. He even apologized for the mess. And it smelled like like musty old books and antiques, piss, and a wisp of sour rotting flesh, like pork gone bad. He always dressed like he thought people in New York at Studio 54 dressed, silk shirts and stuff like that. There were a couple of times, maybe twice, that he said something along the lines of 'why don't you hang out for a little while I've got some better stuff in here.' It did seem like there might have been an overture or two to hang out. But he was a creepy old guy and I was never all that into pot anyway. And then we see on television one day that he had been torturing, murdering, and dismembering men in his house for years. I've always wondered if someone was being tortured while I was there because he would keep his victims for long periods of time, weeks and stuff.
PSF: It was around this time that you moved to Lawrence, KS where the University of Kansas is located. There was a pretty good music scene there, right?
BC: Yeah, there were a few clubs and lots of house shows and things like that. I was at the famous party where Phil, I can't remember his last name right now, the photographer, got his camera smashed by the cops. At the time, the cops in Lawrence were using these real gestapo like tactics in the neighborhood known as the student ghetto. A lot of it had to do with local real estate politics. All of these yuppies would move away after college and make a bunch of money, then come back to town and buy houses in the student ghetto and bitch about kids throwing beer cans in their yard. The head of the police at the time absolutely hated alternative culture. He hated punk rock, and didn't care for hippies either. And he was more than happy to send his stormtroopers to smash up parties. I played a house party once and the cops came in and smashed things up and tried to confiscate my guitar. One night we were at a party on Tennessee street. Me and a couple of guys are standing there watching the band Brompton's Cocktail, a local punk band. And that band had a policy, when the cops come in, do not stop playing until they actually touch someone. And, of course, the cops come in and start hassling people and messing with the band and this photographer takes a picture of the cops grabbing the band. And I think what happened was the flash from the camera really got to one cop and he got pissed off. And then he started grabbing the camera and arguing with the people at the party. They started destroying this guy's camera. Then, as we were all going downstairs to leave the cops kicked someone down the stairs and we all tumbled down the stairs. Outside there are cop cars lined up and down the street with lights flashing. And then it damn near turned into a riot. People were picking up bottles, breaking windshields, vandalizing police cars.
PSF: This was around the time you started working at The Outhouse, the legendary punk rock venue in the middle of a corn field outside of Lawrence, KS, right?
PSF: Tell me about the place.
BC: It was just a cinder block bare bones buiding in the middle of a cornfield. I think it was a tractor barn, that's what it was built as. The inside was covered in spray paint. There was a rule - no spray paint outside but it was covered inside with satanic graffiti. Bands would drive from hours away and still have to drive four miles outside of town to a field to get there. They'd would get there and say "we thought this was a prank" or "we thought we were getting set up to get robbed." In the beginning, there was no stage, bands set up on the floor and by the end of the show, everyone would be knee-deep in beer cans.
PSF: You, and a few others guys, did the sound there for years. How many bands do you think you worked with?
BC: Oh, I can't even estimate.
PSF: What shows did you see that were particularly memorable?
BC: It's really not fair to break them up into favorites. Almost all of the shows were great. And some bands are just great everywhere. D.O.A. and Toxic Reasons, those shows were legendary. I really liked Tupelo Chain Sex, the played there three times. Rollins Band was always great.
The place was so stripped down and bare bones, it really was just like the bands, just stripped down, bare bones rock and roll. Raw energy, raw emotion. The Outhouse encapsulated that, you know, it was just a shack out in the cornfield. We could be as loud as we want, there really weren't any neighbors. GWAR played there a couple of times and I remember the bass player saying something like 'You know out here we don't have to worry about scrubbing the walls and stuff.' No jukeboxes, not pinball machines. It was always a DIY thing.
PSF: Did you work the Nirvana show?
BC: I don't think I did do the sound for that one but I was there. I wasn't impressed by them, just wasn't my kind of punk rock. The guys were nice but Kurt kinda seemed like a whiny hippy more than anything. There weren't many people there, well under 100. There was a little buzz going around about Sub Pop and the grunge movement but it wasn't enough to make a ton of people come out. The headliner was 24-7 Spyz, a metal band. Kurt went on their tour bus and took a shit in its bathroom, which is a huge no-no as bus bathrooms are notoriously not poop friendly. It was a total noob move. I remember thinking this is the first and last time we'll ever see this Nirvana band. Joke's on me I guess. Wish I had a nickle for every person who says that they were at that show now.
PSF: What exactly was your role at The Outhouse?
BC: The job of soundman at The Outhouse apparently included being a plumber. And a maintenance guy. And a building systems management guy. And a gardener. And a horticulturist. And a roofer. And a carpenter. At The Outhouse, the position I kind of put myself into was like a greens keeper or manager. I had the lease on the building for a little while and brought bands like Rollins Band through. And then a group called the Four Horsemen took over for a little bit. I went on a couple of monthes long tour and when I came back the place was kinda trashed and people hadn't been paid and stuff. Some bands had been stiffed.
PSF: Can I ask a quick question that might be uncomfortable?
BC: Yeah, go ahead.
PSF: How common was that, bands getting stiffed, I mean. Not necessarily at your shows or at The Outhouse, but in your experience in general.
BC: It happened, and it happened at The Outhouse too. I never stiffed a band. Bill Rich, who did the early shows at The Outhouse never stiffed a band. It depended on the promoter. I got real mad at promoters because bands would drive five hundred miles and not make anything. But sometimes people just didn't come to the shows and there simply wasn't any money. And according to punk rock morals and values, the band that drove the furthest and has to go the furthest gets the lions share of the money.
A lot of the time it wasn't getting stiffed so much as saying 'OK, you're guarantee was five hundred but I've only got two fifty or three hundred.' I did that with D.O.A. a time or two, but they knew I was honest and just didn't have the money so they cut me a deal. I learned a lot later when I toured with D.O.A., especially from Joe 'Shithead' Keithley. He knew how to pick his battles. I mean, are you really gonna start a fight with people that just don't have the money. You know we'd be all like 'we can't take that Joe, that guy fucked us over.' But Joe would say, 'no, what's that gonna get us? It's not gonna get us the money. If anything it's gonna get us thrown in jail. Or get our fingers broken and we have to play the next night.' But he knew he could also look at the club's calendar and go 'oh, look at all of these other bands that we're friends with playing here next month. I could make a phone call and cancel a lot of your shows.' Not saying he ever actually did that but promoters knew he could and that went a long way.
PSF: Ok, back to The Outhouse.
BC: Anyway, I got back from being on tour and the place was in disarray. And I had a key to the place and an agreement with the guy who owned the place that I would go out there and open the place up for the other events that went on there. There were a whole lot of other thing that went on there that the punk scene never knew about. Frat parties, stuff like that. These frat boys would pay $500 bucks a night to listen to a DJ play the same music that was being played there live on other nights but they would never go out there.
The Outhouse had a cistern that ran underground for a bathroom. We'd have to drive a 500 gallon cistern into town multiple times to fill it up for shows. And, of course, it had a leak in it so the water would run out over the course of a weekend. And there was a pump next to the bathroom that you had to use to prime the pump to get running water and the sinks would work. So many people complain that the bathrooms never worked at The Outhouse. Actually, the bathrooms worked most of the time, I made sure of it.
And then there is the toilet. People would shove all kinds of things down that toilet. Broken bottles, broken glass, tampons. I had to scoop stuff out with a shovel or a stick. Other times, I had to reach in with a big rubber glove that I kept out there. Once, I shoved my hand down in there and a hypodermic needle went up under my fingernail and probably an inch into my finger. I pulled my hand out and there is a needle just dangling from my finger. It had who knows what in it and it had been festering in this bacteria stew for who knows how long. I yank it out of my finger and then, of course, the promoter pops his head in and says 'Hey, you almost done, man, we gotta get the doors open.' And I'm like 'FUCK YOU!'
So I wrapped my finger up and got the first band going. But I'm getting more and more worried about my finger so I got my buddy Josh to cover me on sound for the first band and I went in town to the emergency room. They gave me a big shot of antibiotics, and a tetnus shot, and cleaned it off as best they could. Luckily, it didn't get infected. It turned black and swelled but got better.
PSF: The Outhouse is one of those places where anything could happen, but not everything did. I heard for years about a particularly wild GG Allin show at The Outhouse. Were you there?
BC: GG Allin never played The Outhouse. He was booked there twice and no-showed both times. The first time he had actually been injured at another show a week before he was supposed to be in Lawrence and had some sort of blood infection or something like that. The second time, what I heard was that GG actually showed up at The Outhouse earlier in the day, in the afternoon. When he got there, he realized how isolated it was and that there was basically only one way in and out of the area. Which meant that there was no easy escape route if the crowd turned on them and chased them away. So they left. Supposedly, The Outhouse is the only venue GG Allin was too afraid to play.
But the audience was not to be denied. Both times, the opening bands played and I did sound for both shows. There were huge fights both times GG didn't show, not because he didn't show but because I think the people were just hyped up for gore and violence.
PSF: But a lot of wild things did happen at The Outhouse and some of the most legendary stories occurred when music wasn't even playing. Were you there when the drunk, naked redneck tried to shoot the place up?
BC: Well, there is a documentary about the place that is available online to watch and it tells part of the story. But here's the full story. The Melvins were playing that night, but they weren't there yet. Me and my buddy Josh are on site, hauling things in, getting the PA set up and everything at about two in the afternoon. And the bands started showing up, and they all like 'oh great this place is a shack,' and they're all bummed. We try to reassure them- 'just wait until everyone shows up, it'll be great.' I'm standing there talking to the promoter about the PA system. I see this red pickup truck roll up and slow way down in front of The Outhouse, and then he kinda speeds off. I had a gut feeling that he might be trouble. Then he comes back by a few minutes later and I tell the promoter maybe we should call the sheriff and ask him to just buzz by and see what this guy is up to. But we also don't want the cops coming out to The Outhouse. But then the guy comes back fifteen minutes later, he comes back by driving really fast. We'd definitely caught this guys eye.
At this point, there's like twenty people outside. Suddenly the guy shows back up, pulls into the parking lot and leaves. Then he pulls up across the street. Leaves again. Then he comes back flying down the road and he slams on his brakes, goes into the ditch across the street. He drives through the corn field, drives back towards the Outhouse, hits the ditch again and goes into the air Dukes of Hazard style before coming back in the parking lot and slamming on his brakes and coming to a stop. We're all like 'whoa, what's going on.' So we walk over to the truck, and the promoter says 'Hey man, the gates don't open until six, so you're gonna have to come back later.' I'm looking at the guy and he's a rather large man and... he's not wearing any clothes. I did find out later that he was wearing a red thong but he looked nude. And there are vodka bottles all over his truck. He's talking but he's not making any sense. It sounds like he's asking for someone to either beat him off or beat him up. He gets out of the truck and waddles into The Outhouse and goes into the bathroom and locks the door and stays in there for a while to the point that we think he passed out. So we pound on the door, trying to wake him up. And he comes out, waddles back to his truck, giving everyone the evil eye. He gets in his truck and guns it, rams into a van, then starts chasing this crowd of punk rockers in his truck through the parking lot. So I go to call the cops. A lot of people didn't know but there was a phone hidden in the Outhouse and that was by design. We didn't want them to know about it or it would have been broken.
So I call 911 and I tell them where we are and what's going on - there is a drunk naked man driving around the parking lot. And the dispatcher says 'and this is at the outhouse? what is the emergency?' Like 'isn't that what you guys do out there? What do you want us to do about it?' And she's asking for his tag number and for a description of the truck and all this and then I hear someone say: "He's got a gun!" And I hear some shots and he's driving and shooting out the window up in the air. And then the dispatcher asks me 'what kind of gun?' like I'm supposed to run out and get the serial number or something. So everybody comes running into The Outhouse and the truck comes crashing into the doorway of the building. People started picking up pieces of rock and cinder blocks and advancing on the guy, throwing them at his windshield. The guy manages to free his truck and take off and head towards town and then the dispatcher decides it's an emergency and sends the sheriff. He finally gets arrested after driving into another ditch. I'm still on the phone and they are asking me for a description. I tell them that he is a 350 pound naked white man driving in a red pickup. They ask for more details, of course, and I say "How many 350 pound naked men do you think are driving around the county right now?"
A bunch of us went to his court date. He told the court that he was just minding his own business, driving past the Outhouse when a bunch of punk rockers flagged him down, made him pull into the parking lot, stripped him of his clothes, and tried to sodomize him. We all just sat there laughing in the courtroom and the judge had to pound his gavel and clear the court room.
PSF:And you played The Outhouse too?
BC: The first time my band The Klusterfux played The Outhouse was kind of by chance. I'd been asking Bill Rich, the guy who promoted all of the shows, and he would always say "oh, just give me a demo tape" or come up with some excuse. We got our first gig at The Outhouse when D.O.A. played. There were three bands on the bill D.O.A., Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers, and I think this band called Sand in the Face. One of them didn't show. I knew D.O.A. from before when I had done their shows in Topeka so I was just sitting around in their bus talking. It sounds glamorous but it was just an old school bus. I'm sitting there with Joe Shithead and the guys and I am bitching and whining about how they would never hire my band to play at The Outhouse. So Joe says "hold on a second" and gets up. I think he's getting up to go pee. But he went up and talked to the promoter, Bill Rich, and comes back and says "Ok, you got a gig, you're opening." They let us borrow everything right down the drumsticks and guitar picks. We got on stage and I have to admit I had a good amount of stage fright that day. We were terrible but it did show the guys at The Outhouse that we could play a set. And we started getting shows there.
To be continued...
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